She didn’t know why I was coming to meet with her. She was angry when I showed up and she was very okay with me knowing it. That’s okay — I don’t take it personally. I can see that talking about the risk of exploitation wouldn’t be the highlight of anyone’s day.
This was a Rapid Response meeting. While Love146 provides long-term holistic care, our Rapid Responses are one-time meetings with youth who may be at high risk of trafficking, or are suspected or confirmed victims. We listen, give resources, help them realize it’s not their fault, and talk about how to find safety and support. Afterwards, we make suggestions to their caregivers about follow up.
She sat in a chair across from me in her backyard outside, slouched back with one leg bobbing up and down a mile a minute. She was looking everywhere but at me. Finally, she broke the silence: “You can talk, but I’m not talking to you.” Fair enough. I was happy that she at least agreed to sit and listen, so I got started with the information I wanted to cover: safety planning, people to call if you’re thinking of doing something risky. She made clear early on that she was not going to make this hour easy for me.
In fact, she started biting off fingernails and flecks of skin around them and spitting them in my direction.
Each time she spat, she tried to land it closer to me, almost like a distance contest. It would have been comical to an outsider to see me attempt to have a serious conversation with this youth who clearly was not having it. But I get it. She is mad and she doesn’t want me to be there. She doesn’t trust me. I can’t blame her.
Then it really seemed to become a serious distance contest: Could she land the fingernail in the same spot twice? How far could she spit it? The leg was still bobbing up and down, and she had a slight smile as shreds of her fingertips landed closer and closer to where I sat.
I’m thinking: Yup, she’s going to hit me with one of these. Okay. I’m not moving, though. And I’m not going to stop talking. I only get to come once. Not sure what I’m going to do when it hits me — I’ll think about that when it gets super close. But for now, I’m not moving, and I’m not stopping.
I keep talking, and now we’re pretty deep in. Now I’m covering examples. Examples of perpetrators and their manipulative tactics. Examples of other youth who have been hurt.
And then we get to the topic of consent.
Consent is very concrete for me. And when I talk about it, it is clear cut. And when I provide examples of sexual assault I want to make sure that anyone who has experienced this knows that they are not to blame. It is not their fault. No matter what anyone has told them.
It was at this point that this girl’s body language and attention changed a bit. The leg stopped moving. And the spitting stopped.
Her gaze was intent — it wasn’t on me, but it wasn’t moving, and her whole body became still. When I say still, I mean STILL. It was as if her body was telling her: Stop it. We need to hear this, taking charge and signaling to all functions to stop and pay attention. I would have sworn she was holding her breath. The world had momentarily stopped for her.
I may have gotten 40 seconds, if I had to guess — just enough for her to hear, loud and clear, “It’s not your fault.” Then she went straight back to protective mode. She slouched back in her seat, and the leg started bobbing again — but no spitting. Maybe I earned some trust. Sometimes we can only see 40 seconds of connection. But think how much that 40 seconds may have mattered. Worth it.
The author’s name has been withheld & some details have been changed for safety and confidentiality.